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A Digital Primer

by Patrick LaMontagne

Drawing and painting can be an intimidating, but when you put the word “digital” in front of it, it becomes doubly so. It really shouldn’t be.

Artists have been drawing and painting digitally for decades, and their day-to-day art supplies consist of a sketchbook and a pencil, Photoshop and a Wacom Pen Tablet. Whereas some artists use oils, and others might use acrylics or watercolor, with digital, you have all of those options and more — without the mess. Best of all, digital painting is very forgiving and not as expensive as you might assume, provided you already have a computer.

You’ll need some software, of course. And just as a change of scenery can generate fresh ideas, trying out different software can do the same. Digital art software applications are increasingly robust. Not only do they offer a number of different tools to work with, from pencils and crayons to oils and airbrush, but they deliver a number of different presets so you can make the most of them.

Drawing is drawing, digital is no different

Many beginners fall victim to a common misconception: If you’re using a computer to create art then all you’re doing is pressing a few buttons and the computer is doing all the work. Generally, that poor assumption is born out of misunderstanding. Whether using pencil and paper or using a computer and a pressure-sensitive pen tablet, drawing is drawing.

The devices themselves — pen and tablet, PC or Mac, software — are tools. They are a means to bringing visual ideas out of your imagination and into the real world. However, just as having a Stradivarius will not turn you into a violin virtuoso, a computer will not turn you into an artist, nor will it create art for you. If you’re already an artist, or feeling that creative spark to become one, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give digital a try.

Think in layers

  • When you’re working with digital art, you create various layers. Much like painting, you start with a sketch, and then work up form there.
  • When you “work up” you create a new layer, using a new tool, or brush. Layer upon layer, you’re digital art piece comes to life.
  • With layers, you can use digital pencils, markers, oils, watercolors, a palette knife, airbrush — any tools that come with your software.
  • It can be difficult to combine traditional media, but when you’re drawing and painting digitally it’s pretty easy. And if you don’t want mediums to blend together, you can use multiple layers so that they can still interact with each other without mixing.

The important thing is to get started

Too often artists are their own worst critics and will fail to even try something new for fear of being bad at it. They worry that they won’t be able to draw or paint well and that it will take years to become an artist. That’s partly true of course, becoming good at anything requires time and effort.

Digital art is very forgiving. If you make a mistake it’s easy to correct. If you’d feel better off starting from scratch it’s as simple as closing a file and opening a new one. And while traditional mediums can be expensive (to invest in real-world oils, watercolors, acrylics, you’re looking at spending a fair bit of money), to try digital drawing and painting it’s a lot more affordable than you think.

I have some art inside me

Most of us loved to draw as children, so it goes without saying you’re already an artist, you may have just taken an extended leave of absence from it. As for taking years to become a really good artist, well that time is going to pass anyway! You can come out the other side of those years regretting you didn’t try, or you can end up looking back on a courageous moment when you thought “Yeah, I do have some art inside me.” The primary reason we create art is for the joy of it. Creativity is part of our nature as human beings.

Chances are you’re reading this because you’re considering giving the digital medium a try. While it’s easy to go get started, the real challenge will be in believing that you can create art. It’s true, there’s nothing more intimidating than a blank canvas, digital or otherwise. But there’s magic in that first stroke of the pen, and there’s momentum with every one that follows.

You can continue to wonder about the art you might create or you can get started. Let’s see what you can do.